As much as I loved The Substitute, The Entry is where Bleach really takes off and starts to get more interesting. We left off with Ichigo and his friends invading the Soul Society so they could save Rukia from her impending execution. This is the first time we’re really going to get to explore the spirit world, so The Entry deals with a lot of worldbuilding. This is also around the point in the series where our cast starts to grow and we’re introduced to no less than twenty new characters.
Spoilers ahead in case you don’t know how the story goes.
Ichigo and the others arrive safely at the Soul Society, where they discover that the afterlife is actually a really shitty place divided by a class system. The Soul Society is made up of two parts: the Seireitei, where the Shinigami and the ruling class lives, and the Rukongai, the significantly larger and more heavily populated poor area. Unlike the Seireitei, the Rukongai is comprised of souls that have little to no spiritual gifts, and as such, their issues—like poverty and crime—tend to be ignored by the Shinigami.
This is also the part of the Soul Society that our characters arrive in, and being unable to enter the Seireitei, they spend the first ten or so episodes of this arc trapped in the Rukongai and learning about some of the different problems its inhabitants have. They also learn that there’s very little love between the two districts, and as a Shinigami himself, Ichigo even faces some outright hostility from some of the Rukongai inhabitants who blame the Shinigami for their problems.
We especially see this with the introduction of the character Ganju, who despises Shinigami because his brother used to be one and was murdered by a fellow Shinigami. Despite their differences, Ichigo and Ganju must learn to work together. They, with Ichigo’s other friends, finally manage to invade the Seireitei and search for Rukia. Unfortunately, upon their entry, they are all separated from each other.
The remainder of this arc consists of our heroes running around Seireitei fighting Shinigami and learning about the Soul Society. By the time it ends, all the battles have gotten to be too much for our heroes. All of Ichigo’s friends have been captured by the Shinigami—and will probably be executed after Rukia—and Ichigo himself is badly injured. In order to gain enough strength to save Rukia and the others, his ally Yoruichi takes him to an underground bunker so he can train and become stronger.
As I said, for me, this arc is where the story really becomes good. Not only do we continue to learn more about Ichigo’s friends, we are also introduced to a society which has numerous social problems and isn’t afraid to talk about those problems. There is a horrible divide between the Shinigami and the souls of the Rukongai, whom they are supposed to protect. And even though we meet a bunch of decent Shinigami, we are also introduced to a bunch who are downright terrible. But what really makes this interesting is that this arc is not about Ichigo and his friends facing off against evil Shinigami. It’s about Ichigo and his friends invading the Shinigami homeland to save someone the Shinigami view as a criminal. Rukia broke their laws, and the Seireitei is their home. As such, though we can root for Ichigo to come out on top, we can’t really blame the Shinigami for attempting to hunt him down.
However, though I like The Entry much more than I like The Substitute, it is by far a worse arc when it comes to female representation. I absolutely adored Rukia in the last arc and loved her role within the narrative. Unfortunately, The Entry reduces her to nothing more than a damsel in distress. That’s it. For an entire arc dedicated to saving her from execution, she has very little to do. She’s not actively trying to escape, or attempting to have her sentence appealed. She simply waits in her cell, reflecting on her life. While that’s not a bad thing, necessarily, it was a little odd to watch, since the all the other characters around her end up having stronger emotional responses to her impending execution than she does. At this point in time, Rukia’s character could actually be replaced with an inanimate object and the rest of the plot wouldn’t have to change.
At the very least, there is a reason for Rukia’s passive behavior: her loyalty to her older brother Byakuya, who is one of the people enforcing her execution. Interestingly enough, the two of them are not actually related to each other by blood. Rukia was adopted into his family—which was a huge scandal at the time, because Byakuya’s clan is noble and Rukia came from the poor Rukongai. Their relationship with each other is quite possibly the only thing of note about her character for both this arc and the following. Japanese culture views adoption very differently than Western cultures, and one thing the Japanese occasionally partake in is adopting adults into an offspring role in a family, normally to keep a family’s name or ancestry going without relying on bloodlines. It’s still a common practice today. What is interesting about Rukia’s situation is that, since she’s from the Rukongai, her adoption does not help attenuate the family name. We learn that Byakuya even went against his family’s wishes to have her adopted. Though Byakuya, both as a noble and a high-ranking Shinigami, is helping to enforce her execution for reasons that are not explained this arc, the two of them have a very nuanced relationship together, and this subplot is the only redeeming part of Rukia’s characterization during The Entry.
I really respected Rukia’s character during The Substitute, so her new role is certainly upsetting, but at the very least we are introduced to numerous other female characters who are all interesting in their own right. However, their roles tend to take backstage when it comes to the male characters around them. Even Orihime’s character gets shoved to the side, and we actually don’t see her all that much this arc. As such, as much as I love The Entry, I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for representation.
That said, this arc still talks about a lot of other issues, specifically when it comes to the Rukongai and Seireitei class separation. And we do also see that issue brought up and talked about when it comes to Rukia’s adoption. It is certainly interesting to watch, and I really like how the story handles all the characters, specifically in this regard. I really just wish that there was more going on with Rukia. Unfortunately, her role as a damsel in distress doesn’t change in the next arc, The Rescue, though we will end up learning more about her relationship with Byakuya. We also see more of characters like Yoruichi, and her relationship with the Seireitei and Shinigami, which further expands on the class issue while also introducing another potentially queer character. Until then!